Demons and the Power of God

Demons and the Power of God

Mark 9:14-29

Dr. Jim Denison

When I graduated from high school I made plans to attend Baylor University, as all good Baptist boys do. But then my girlfriend and I broke up; she was going to Baylor, so I couldn’t go there after that. Houston Baptist University offered me an academic scholarship, so I went to HBU. My junior year I met Janet, and the rest is history.

At HBU each student was issued an identification number he or she would use through the year. It was given at chapel to register attendance, and put on forms and papers. Registering for my junior year at HBU, as I was standing in line for my ID number, the thought occurred to me that someone at Houston Baptist University would get the number 666—the “mark of the Beast.” The movie Omen had just come out that summer, and everyone was talking about 666. I had taught the Book of Revelation at the church where I was a student minister, and was thinking about all of this.

I was so caught up in my thoughts that I didn’t notice when the student in front of me in line was given the ID number 665. But I’ll never forget the shock when the lady at the desk smiled and said, “Denison—666.” I wanted to run out to see if I’d grown horns and a tail. Going to chapel I’d say, “Mark of the Beast,” and the lady would write down “666” while everyone stared.

Last week we began exploring one of Jesus’ most amazing miracles, an episode where he responded to the faith of a father by healing his demon-possessed son. Last Sunday we discussed faith and the power of God; today we’ll look at demons and the power of God. Next week Janet will speak while I’m out of town; the week after we’ll finish this story by exploring prayer and the power of God.

What is spiritual warfare?

First, let me introduce you to the subject of spiritual warfare. An African proverb says, “When elephants fight, the grass always loses.” Who are the “elephants” in the spiritual battle we’re waging? And who is the “grass”?

On one side is our Heavenly Father, the Creator and Ruler of the universe, the Lord of all that is. Our God, who so loved us that he sent his Son to give us eternal life with him in heaven.

On the other side is Satan. His name means “adversary” or accuser. All across the Scriptures he acts in defiance of God’s word and will. He tempted Jesus, and tempts us as well. We are the “grass” in his battle against the Lord. And so the Bible warns us, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5.8).

According to the Bible, a “demon” is a created spirit being, a kind of angel. These beings sinned with Satan in heaven, and so are commonly called “fallen angels” or “unclean spirits.” Satan is now their ruler (Matthew 12:24), and he has organized them into his army of evil (Ephesians 6:11-12). God created hell for them, and they will be there with Satan forever: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).

Their doom is sure. Revelation sees the day when “the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).

But in the meanwhile Satan is fighting for every soul he can bring to hell and damnation with him. And his foot soldiers are his demons. We need to know about them, because they’re after us.

What are demons?

As we saw last week, our story comes just after Jesus’ transfiguration before Peter, James and John. He came from the Mount of Transfiguration to the valley of suffering below, where he was met by a distraught father whose son was possessed by a demon. What does our text tell us about demons?

First, they are very real. Most Americans don’t believe they exist. Most Americans are deceived.

Demons were real to Jesus. Six times in the gospels we find him casting them out of suffering, demon-possessed people. Mark 1:34 says that Jesus “drove out many demons.”

They were real to the early Christians. Acts 5:16 records this scene from their ministry: “Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” Peter and Paul both exorcised demons personally.

And they were certainly real to the boy in our story today, weren’t they?

Second, demons seek to destroy. The demon in our text robbed the boy of speech; it threw him to the ground where he foamed at the mouth, gnashed his teeth and became rigid. The boy’s father told Jesus that “it has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him”

Third, demons are stronger than we are. The man told Jesus, “I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not” (v. 18). In the story of the demon-possessed man of Gadara, no one could bind him with a chain.

Last, demons want to hurt us. They hate all people, so that they came to possess and tried to kill this innocent boy. They especially hate the people of God. They cannot harm our Father, so they try to harm his children.

Know that if you are a Christian, you cannot be “possessed” by a demon. You are owned by Jesus, and cannot be owned by the devil. But you can be “oppressed” or tempted by them.

How do we defeat demons?

First, receive Jesus. Make him your Savior and Lord. As he defeated this demon, so he has power over Satan and his temptations always. Make him your Lord, and he will help you win the battle over temptation and sin every day.


Does God Want To Help You?

Does God Want To Help You?

Matthew 8:5-13

Dr. Jim Denison

Meeting Billy Graham was one of the most moving experiences of my life. It was my privilege to lead the delegation which invited Dr. Graham to Texas Stadium for the Metroplex Mission in 2002.

He was preaching a Mission in Fresno, California when we were ushered in to meet with him. He had broken a bone in his foot the night before, and had a walking cast on it. He was sipping water and looking over his sermon notes when our group was brought to sit with him.

I’ve never seen eyes like his—piercing, gracious, holy. We presented him with 700 letters of invitation from across the Metroplex, and I explained our reasons for wanting him to come. He listened to each of us, then turned to me and asked, “Why do you think I can help you?” I misunderstood his question, thinking he was asking about the need for such an evangelistic meeting in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, and proceeded to describe the number of lost people in our community and our other spiritual needs.

He listened politely, then asked, “But why do you think I can help?” He was not sure that, at 83 years of age, he could be relevant to our needs. He received our letters and promised to pray. And he did—for more than six weeks, longer than he took to accept any invitation in the history of his ministry, we were told.

His humility was the single most impressive part of the entire experience.

It was an awe-some experience in every way. I felt unworthy to be in the presence of the man who has preached to more people than any person in human history. Most of us know the feeling of being unworthy to be with someone greater than ourselves. I’ve been privileged to meet presidents and governors and felt that way. I’ve been with great ministers and missionaries and scholars and felt that way. There are times when I feel that way especially with God. He knows my mistakes and failures and guilt better than I know them. There are times when I don’t feel worthy to pray to him, to ask for his help, to seek his grace. We’ve all been there and we’ll all be there. Today’s story is for us.

Story

To understand the true significance of this week’s story, we need to know something of the cultural history behind the text.

We have a “centurion” in Capernaum. Who and what was he? The Roman army was divided into legions of 6,000 soldiers, which were further divided into “centuries” of 100, each commanded by a “centurion.” These were the sergeants, the men on the ground; historians call them the “backbone of the Roman military.”

In a city the size of Capernaum, he would be the presiding officer, the military leader of the occupied city. Thus the most hated man in Capernaum. Why? Because the Jews hated the Romans, and even more, the Gentile world they represented.

The story goes back 800 years, to the time when the Assyrians (roughly Syria today) destroyed and annihilated the ten northern tribes of Israel. They burned their cities, enslaved their women and children, and killed most of the men. Some stripped their skin to use for wallpaper. They are called the “lost tribes of Israel” to this day.

Then, in the sixth century before Christ, the Babylonians did the same thing to the southern kingdom of Judah. They destroyed their temple, enslaved their people, destroyed their nation.

The Persians eventually overthrew the Babylonians and allowed the Jews to return to their ruined homeland, but under Persian dominance.

That’s how the Old Testament closes. Then the Greek empire under Alexander overthrew the Persians and enslaved the Jews. One of their generals, Antiochus Epiphanes IV, tried to force the Jews to worship Greek gods. He slaughtered a pig on the altar of the Holy of Holies and erected a statue of Zeus in the temple. The Jews revolted in 166 B.C. under the Maccabees and gained their independence for 103 years.

Then, as their leaders were fighting each other, in 63 B.C. the Romans under Pompey captured Israel and made it theirs. And that’s how the New Testament opens.

You can see why the Jews hated the Gentiles. They said that God made Gentiles so there would be firewood in hell. They forbade their women from helping a Gentile woman in childbirth, for that would only bring another Gentile into the world. They wouldn’t eat Gentile food, go into Gentile homes, or speak to Gentiles in public. One famous prayer repeated by men across Israel each morning was, “Lord, I thank you that you did not make me a woman, a slave, or a Gentile.”

And this man was not only a Gentile, he was a Roman; and not only a Roman, but the man presiding over the Roman occupation of their city. Archaeologists have discovered the military barracks where he lived, just east of Capernaum. This is the background Matthew assumes we know when he tells us that “a centurion” in Capernaum came to Jesus.

But against all odds, he “came to him, asking for help.” Capernaum was Jesus’ ministry center in Galilee; this man had heard our Lord teach and preach and heal. Now he came to him for help.

He called him “Lord,” a remarkable statement. “Lord” translates Kurios, a title reserved for Caesar. Each year every Roman citizen was required to burn a pinch of incense before a bust of Caesar and say Caesar Kuriou, Caesar is Lord. In decads to come Christians would refuse, saying instead Iesou Kuriou, Jesus is Lord. For this more than a million were slaughtered by the Empire.

Now this man came to Jesus, calling the itinerant Jewish carpenter his Lord, his Caesar. And bringing him a very special request: “My servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” Again we see his remarkable character, in caring so deeply for a “servant,” a slave, an attendant.


Making Christ the King of Your Prayer

Making Christ the King of Your Prayers

Mark 9:14-29

Dr. Jim Denison

A group of visiting ministers from America came to tour Charles Spurgeon’s church buildings. Spurgeon graciously showed them around the facilities—the massive sanctuary, the children’s homes, the Bible college rooms, and all the rest. Toward the end of the tour, he asked his guests if they would like to see the boiler room. They respectfully declined, with the wry comment that boiler rooms must be the same everywhere and there could be little different about those at the Tabernacle.

Spurgeon begged to differ, and insisted that they see his boiler room. Finally they agreed. Spurgeon took the group down a long flight of stairs to the basement beneath the sanctuary. There they found over one hundred men and women on their faces before God in prayer. Pointing to these fervent intercessors, Spurgeon said, “This is my boiler room.”

We all need such a “boiler room” in our lives—a source of spiritual power which sustains and strengthens all we do. But such a power is tied directly to our faith. As Spurgeon demonstrated, if we would pray in power, we must pray in faith.

Andrew Murray said, “Most churches don’t know that God rules the world by the prayers of his saints.” John Wesley was even more specific: “God does nothing but in answer to prayer.” And E. M. Bounds claimed, “The church upon its knees would bring heaven upon the earth.”

The best way to know Christ is in prayer. We know any person best by spending time with him or her, talking together, listening to each other, being with each other. So it is with Jesus. The more time we spend together in prayer, the more we grow to know him and be like him.

And this focus is especially urgent in our day, because the greatest way we can serve the cause of Spiritual Awakening is to pray. To pray for our nation, for her leaders, her people, her spiritual life and God’s divine blessing.

So this morning we’ll look at the life of prayer, and focus that life on our nation and her needs this day.

Pay the price to pray with power

We’ve explored Jesus’ miraculous healing of this demon-possessed boy. His disciples could not help, but Jesus did. Remember the story: “When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. ‘You deaf and mute spirit,’ he said, ‘I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.’ The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, ‘He’s dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up” (vs. 25-27).

Now we come to the part of the story for us today: “After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’ He replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer'” (vs. 28-29).

Jesus had been with the Father in prayer on the Mount of Transfiguration. Meanwhile, the three disciples with him were asleep and the nine below were arguing with the crowds. Only he had been in prayer.

Such a commitment was the pattern of his life. He began his public ministry by spending 40 days in solitude for fasting and prayer. After his first Sabbath in ministry, he got up a great while before day, went to a solitary place, and prayed (Mark 1:35). He prayed all night before selecting his disciples. He prayed before feeding the 5,000. He prayed before raising Lazarus from the dead. He prayed before dying on our cross. He prayed from the cross. He is praying for us right now at the right of the Father in glory (Romans 8:34).

Biblical examples:

Abraham built altars for prayer wherever he went.

Moses’ ministry began in an encounter with God in prayer. He spent days and weeks alone with God in prayer.

David was such a man of prayer that we have the Psalms as a result.

The church was birthed in the Upper Room, where they went to pray before Pentecost fell.

Gentiles came into the church when Cornelius and Peter prayed.

The gospel came to the Western world when Paul prayed and received the Macedonian vision.

Lydia became the first European convert when she went to a place of prayer.

The Revelation was given to John when he prayed.

Do you see a pattern?

Spiritual awakening examples.

The first great awakening began in the heart of Theodore Frelinghuysen, a Dutch Reformed pastor who prayed seven years before all his deacons became Christians, then prayed until others joined him and the Awakening fell.

The second great awakening began with Isaac Baccus, a Baptist minister who called for a massive prayer movement.

The third began when a group of laymen began meeting for prayer on Wednesday, September 23, 1857 at the Old North Dutch Church in New York City. They were led by a Presbyterian businessman named Jeremiah Lamphier. The first day, six people came to his prayer meeting. The next week there were 14; then 23; then the group began to meet daily. They outgrew the church and began filling other churches and meeting halls throughout the city. Such meetings spread across the country. In a nation of 30 million, a million came to Christ in a single year.

The Fourth Great Awakening began in Wales in 1904 in the heart of a coal miner named Evan Roberts. He was convicted of his sins by the Spirit, and turned to God in prayer and repentance. He then began preaching to the young people in his church, calling them to prayer and repentance. Prayer meetings broke out all over Wales. Social conditions were affected dramatically. Tavern owners went bankrupt; police formed gospel quartets because they had no one to arrest. Coal mines shut down for a time because the miners stopped using profanity and the mules no longer understood them.